Questions of food security have tended to focus on urban areas as the centres of population and with the most limited access to land to produce local food. However, food security is equally important in remote, upland regions of the UK. Livelihoods in hill areas have been historically dominated by grazing beef and sheep.
Scotland, for example, is a significant contributor to the EU sheep flock, with around 2.6 million ewes, 12,700 agricultural holdings, providing the economy with an annual return of £189 million. Although prices remain high, this sector faces a series of challenges, with decreasing sheep breeding flocks1,2, high costs/ low margins, an aging population and lack of new entrants.
In England 11% of breeding cattle and 44% of breeding sheep occur on the 6,500 holdings that are located in the 15% of England that forms the uplands. The UK is a world player when it comes to producing sheep meat. It is the sixth biggest producer globally and exports 36% of output to more than 100 countries3.This proposal will examine the resilience of beef and sheep production in upland regions of Scotland and northern England, in the face of uncertain environments and policy landscapes.
At the same time as livestock in upland regions have been relatively neglected, the sector has come under considerable pressure. As well as financial stresses, the social desirability of ruminant production is increasingly being questioned due to greenhouse gas emissions, concerns about loss of biodiversity, water management and activism seeking to promote rewilding and reduced meat eating. These challenges have increased with the policy uncertainties inherent in Brexit.
In upland areas climate change, poor productivity and economic and social challenges have meant that the livestock systems in these areas are in decline and currently unviable without subsidy. Challenges associated with these changes include disease and tick increases, and blackloss (unexplained loss of lambs on extensive grazing). These mean that not only are the livestock production systems in decline but there are concerns about the associated loss of grazing impacts on biodiversity associated with open habitats in upland landscapes.
Post by Dr Ann Bruce, The University of Edinburgh
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